Monday, May 9, 2022

Attlee at eighty (1963)

Clement Attlee by 'Vicky'
From the February 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Clement Attlee — the mousey, insignificant Post Master General, who grew up to become the Prime Minister for whom the journalists' favourite adjectives were “ruthless” and “ waspish "—was eighty years old last month.

His birthday was greeted with the gushing eulogies which we have come to expect on such occasions. Nobody, it seems, is as popular as the politician who has ridden the strains of office to the extent that he has managed to reach old age. Then he can sit back and cast a weary, benevolent eye upon the men who are struggling with the problems which were once his own everyday burden—an eye perhaps a little sardonic, an eye which perhaps says in its smile that he thinks that he made a better mess of it all than those who are trying to run the show today. The strifes and upsets of his own days of power are forgotten. So are some of the more unpleasant memories of what it meant to be a prominent politician. Forgotten are the dirty jobs, the deceit and the repressions which he had to condone. It is all forgotten, in a rosy glow of congratulation. We have heard it all before and we are accustomed to it all.

We are accustomed, too, to the trumpets from the other side—to the eulogies from the men who call themselves his political opponents. Christopher Hollis, for example, who was Conservative M.P. for Devizes when Attlee was Prime Minister, filled up half a page of The Observer with his birthday praise for the ex-Labour leader. “Plenty To Be Proud About," cried Hollis, “. . . the English people unanimously offer him their congratulations . . . a public institution . . . a great Englishman.” All very cheerful and chummy. All proves that, however much the Tories may shout at the Labour Party—and the Labour Party shout back —across the floor of the House, under the skin they are all jolly good fellows, all pulling the same way. Pretty dashed English, in fact.

The Socialist Standard has something other than congratulations to offer Earl Attlee upon his reaching old age. And we do not praise any other Capitalist politician for any similar reason. We know that the praise, from friend and foe of the old man, only serves to bolster the “great leader” theory, to impress us with the idea that at the head of Capitalisms affairs there is a select band who have the touch of greatness and who safely hold our fortunes in their hands. It is part of the rules of the leadership game that the old, retired men are heaped with congratulations on every possible occasion, which is an indirect way of also congratulating the men who have taken their place and to imply that one day they, too, will be similarly revered. That is why Tories rush into print to wish Attlee well, Labourites to congratulate Churchill, and so on. They are all playing the same game.

The Socialist Standard prefers to remember what Capitalism means to the people of the world and that the Attlees and Churchills work themselves hard to try to maintain a social system which operates directly against the interests of the overwhelming majority of those people. We know that the leaders will lie and betray to protect the interests of their own national ruling class and that, if Capitalism demands it, they will have little trouble with their consciences in sending millions of workers to their deaths. That was how it was before Attlee became Prime Minister. That is how it is today. And that was how it was when he was at Number Ten.

We should not forget that the Labour Party came to power in 1945 on a promise to be different. They did not encourage anyone to believe that they would not improve upon the dismal Tory record of poverty and war which lay in such discredit in 1945. The war had destroyed some well established notions and to that extent the Labour government had a chance to start afresh. They had promised so much and the working class — or enough of them to elect a large majority of M.P.s — had believed them. In 1945 it was up to Attlee and his fellow leaders to deliver the goods. How did they make out?

Even before he became Prime Minister, Attlee knew of the existence of an atom bomb and had agreed that, if the Japanese did not surrender first, the new weapon should be used against them. He still thinks today that he was correct in this decision, although he pleads that at the time he did know of the genetic effects of the bomb and of its fantastic destructive power. One of the popular theories about Attlee (and about a few other politicians as well) is that, because he was a soldier in 1914/18, he is only too well acquainted with the horrors of war and can therefore be relied upon to work his hardest for a peaceful world. Like so many other similar theories, this one is quite worthless. When Capitalism needed it, Attlee could conveniently tuck away his memories and agree to the unleashing of the mass killer bomb, the most horrible weapon the world had ever seen, which made the trenches look like a kid’s firework display. And he could coldly justify his decision on military and strategic grounds.

Let us take the point further. If Attlee did not know, before the bomb was dropped, of its power and its genetic effects, what did he think about it after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when everyone realised that this was a weapon the like of which we had not seen before? Did he step back appalled? Did he regret his decision? Exactly the opposite. It was the Attlee government which set on foot the programme for the manufacture of a British nuclear bomb and of the missiles to carry it. Somewhere along the way, of course, this programme has gone awry and the independent nuclear force which the Labour government tried to establish for British Capitalism now relies heavily upon American resources. But that does not alter the fact that they tried to get it, and their record is the blacker for it. (From Washington came an ironical birthday present for Attlee—the decision to cancel the Skybolt missile, which was such a blow to the independent nuclear force which the Attlee government conceived.)

It was the Labour government, too, which took this country into the Korean war and there, if you like, is a typical example of Capitalism’s irony. For the decision to split Korea was arrived at at what were called the Peace Conferences after the war. Now if there is one thing Peace Conferences should be able to do is to make peace. But Capitalism simply does not work that way: “Peace” Conferences only draw out the battle line for the next war. That is what happened in Korea and in Berlin and other parts of the world. Some of these "peace" settlements have caused disputes which might have sparked off the third world war. Attlee pleads now that at the post war conferences the British negotiators got the best deal they could and that the trouble was all caused by the Russians. Yet one reason for having a Labour government, we were told, was that they were supposed to be able to deal with this sort of situation, that they were the men who could talk to the Russians in the language they understood, the men to bring peace to the world. But when it came to it they were as ready as any other government to involve themselves in the diplomacy and the intrigue—and in the end the bloodletting — which Capitalism demands.

There is nothing in the international record of his government for Earl Attlee to feel proud about.

The past
Neither is there anything for him to take pride in in the history of the Labour government at home. Can a party which always claimed to stand for the interests of the working class feel proud of breaking strikes among the men—the dockers and miners, for example—who in some part built their party for them? Can the party which promised prosperity take pride in the austerity, the wage freeze and the other restrictions which they imposed during their term? Can the party which fought against the Emergency Powers Act, when it was introduced as a Bill before the House of Commons, look back proudly upon the memory of themselves wielding the coercive powers of that very Act? All these things, and many more, were the work of the Attlee administration. There is nothing for the aged Earl to feel proud about in them.

Nobody should think, of course, that the record of the Labour government is exclusively Attlee’s responsibility, or that things would have been different with someone else as Prime Minister. No government has ever done any better than Labour did —no government, in other words, has been able to run Capitalism to the benefit of the working class, who are the mass of its people. The point about the Labour Party is that they promised—and they still promise—that they can run Capitalism in that way. And they call their sort of Capitalism Socialism.

Attlee himself did his job with an arid efficiency. In the Cabinet he was a model chairman. To his colleagues he was an aspere, ruthless boss. More than one minister lost his office with startling abruptness under the Attlee axe.  ". . . most of the people I had to get rid of." said Attlee later, “Took it very well." And to Harold Laski, then chairman of the Labour Party: ". . . the constant flow of speeches from and interviews with you are embarrassing . . . a period of silence on your part would be welcome. Yours ever, Clem.”

The ending of that letter is typical. Attlee covered all his comings and goings with a cloak of modesty. Whatever job he had to do for British Capitalism was always put through with a cold self-effacement, a deliberate avoidance of rhetoric. When he told the 1940 conference of the Labour Party that they had brought about the end of the Chamberlain government and had agreed to serve in the wartime coalition under Churchill, he did so in such bleak terms that Harold Laski said that he felt “as though the cook and kitchen maid have been telling us that they sacked the butler.” Attlee delights in making such important statements casually; it is one of the characteristics which his eulogisers love so well. Francis William’s book, A Prime Minister Remembers, is full of this sort of stuff: "It was quite obvious they (the Russians) were going to be troublesome . . . It (Berlin) was quite a danger. But it was a risk that had to be taken.” And so on. On the evening he became Prime Minister, he was driven to Buckingham Palace, not in a Rolls or even a Bentley, but in a small family car, with his wife as his chauffeur.

When we consider all this, and the fact that his job required him to be anything but self-effacing, we come upon one of the clues to Attlee’s rise to power. He was nothing if not an extremely shrewd administrator of Capitalism. For him. public modesty was a weapon, a badge, a trade mark, like Churchill’s cigars and V-sign. He could not carry off the flamboyant, capering politician. So he made a conceit out of modesty. Unusual, perhaps, but it worked.

Attlee got the top job. And when he had got it he did everything that British Capitalism required of him. Very often he had to do things which he must have known were directly against the interests and the safety of the very people who had raised him to power. But he never flinched. He did his job, in his dry, inflexible way, and British Capitalism ticked on.

If it is any consolation to him, let us say that he deserves the thanks and the congratulations which the organs of Capitalist opinion have heaped upon him.

Blogger's Note:
A couple of brief mentions of when Clement Attlee and the SPGB crossed paths.

“The Russian debacle is rather appalling but quite explicable. Lenin and Trotsky appear to me to be of the SPGB type or the wilder types of the SDP.” 
Clement Attlee in a letter to his brother Tom, 20 March 1918 (quoted in 'Clem Attlee. A Biography' by Francis Beckett, 2001).

"One journalist came hurrying to learn about the Party from a strange little incident at one of the Prime Minister’s press conferences. He had asked a question which, by coincidence, implied the Party’s argument against the Labour Party. Attlee had swung round angrily and said: ‘I know you — SPGB !’ The journalist had never heard of the SPGB before, but he could not wait to discover why Attlee had been so sensitive. Not all the Labour leaders took the Party quite so seriously, however. In 1946 Groves debated with Sir Waldron Smithers, and in the retiring-room before it began the old Conservative confided that Herbert Morrison had said to him: ‘Be careful of that bunch, Sir Waldron — they’re not real socialists, you know.’ Sir Waldron had taken the words to heart, but the Party members for once appreciated irony."
(From The Monument, the story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain by Robert Barltrop, 1975)

Finance and Industry: Trouble among the experts (1963)

The Finance and Industry column from the February 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trouble among the experts

Regular readers of these columns will know that we do not have a very high opinion of economic experts. We have so often seen them proved wrong, so often seen them at a loss when really called upon to make a decision or commit themselves, so often seen them at sixes and sevens among themselves, so often seen them compelled to eat their pretentious and self-satisfied words, that we are no longer surprised whatever they do or say. Not the most appealing of their habits either is the way they shoot off on completely new tacks, contradicting all they have said before without the slightest hint of an apology or blush of shamefacedness. Yes, we must admit to a very jaundiced view of our economic pundits.

The latest example of what we mean is a report in the Observer recently about the investigations of a certain Mr. Little of Nuffield College, Oxford. Mr. Little is described in the same article as being one of the two or three most brilliant economists of his generation, so presumably his views are destined to carry some weight.

The most important of his observations is that it is "useless to try to predict the future earnings of a company from any single past earnings growth ratio, or from dividends, or from asset size." Which, if true, means that the whole paraphernalia of investment analysis, hitherto regarded as the last word in predicting the future fortunes of capitalist firms, falls to the ground. According to the Observer there are hundreds of economists, accountants, and actuaries all busily engaged on such analysis in London City offices, and there must be many more in the United Stales where the whole idea started. Apparently, if Mr. Little is to be believed, they have all been wasting their time.

His conclusions were so demoralising that a prominent stockbroking firm made its own investigation. Its report confirmed that made by Mr. Little. We are left wondering why it did not get around to making the discovery for itself without waiting for an outsider to do it.

Another fallacy knocked on the head is that much of the talk we have had to listen to about the virtues of good management is so much guff. According to Mr. Little, if by good management is meant “the ability to produce and maintain a higher return than the average,” then it hardly exists, and really bad management is equally rare. Our managers, it would seem, are in fact much of a muchness. Marks and Spencer for example is often quoted with admiration as a firm with top class management, but in reality it is hardly out of the ordinary. “Statistically speaking,” says Mr. Little, “ Marks and Spencer does not exist.”

We hope to report further in due course on the repercussions, if any, of Mr. Little’s revelations. No doubt our investment analysts will think of something to preserve and justify their existence.

We reported last month on the Government’s efforts to stimulate Britain’s flagging economy and on the capitalists' un-enthusiastic response.

Mr. Maudling has now cut Bank Rate to 4 per cent. and brought down purchase tax on radios, television sets, and cosmetics to 25 per cent. in a further effort to prime the pump. Our capitalists still remain unimpressed.

What they are really waiting for is a clear indication that when they start investing in further plant there will be a nice big market ready to absorb their products. In the present economic mood, it will take more than Government pump-priming measures to get them round to that.

Top firms
The Observer recently published figures showing the hundred top British firms graded according to the amount of their net assets.

The table is too big to reproduce in full, but we show on this page the names of the top twenty as a useful record. They all have net assets of more than a £100 million. In case anyone wonders why Royal Dutch Shell does not appear it is because it is an international company.
Stan Hampson

Pan-African "Socialists" (1963)

From the February 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pan-African socialism, so-called, is essentially a creation of West Africa. But with the spread of education and the growth of communications in Africa these ideas have been absorbed also by Africans living in the East and the South of the continent. The main African political parties in these areas all claim to be Socialist. Frequently their leaders appear in London and ask the workers of Britain to support them in their struggle against imperialism. But nationalism is incompatible with Socialism and it is actually a barrier against the spread of Socialist ideas. On occasions it is even worse; for nationalism frequently hinders even the effective organisation of workers on the trade union field which is so essential under capitalism. Recent events in Central Africa well illustrate this point.

In Southern Rhodesia the Pan-Africanists whose political party, the Zimbabwe African Peoples' Union was recently outlawed, have provoked a split among the African workers. Previously there was only one organisation claiming to represent the African worker, the Southern Rhodesia Trade Union Congress (SRTUC), led by Reuben Jamela. However, Jamela betrayed a pro-Western leaning by maintaining, in defiance of Ghana, that the SRTUC should remain affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). In addition, Jamela, although himself a nationalist, held that . . .
the declared position of Jamela's trade unionism is that the workers as workers must not be involved in politics and it has been argued by politicians and trade unionists that the two cannot mix: trade unionism must be for economical well-being of the working class, while politics is the game of both the worker and employer for political and social rights.
Without in any way supporting Jamela, we must say that the arguments which he presents against the association of the trade unions with the nationalist parties are basically sound. After all, trade unions are primarily organised to protect the workers of a particular trade section, or of a group of more or less allied trades. People of varying political and religious views are united in trade unions on one issue alone: the recognition that collective action is more effective than individual action when dealing with employers. Politics within the trade union tends to destroy this unity. This is what has happened in Southern Rhodesia. The Pan-Africanists have broken away from the SRTUC and set up their own African TUC which is rapidly gaining support at the expense of the SRTUC and which, incidentally, has not been banned.

The particular party which it is suggested the unions support is, despite its Socialist pretensions, basically capitalist and nationalist. The nationalist case for turning the trade unions into little more than the labour wing of the nationalist party is based on an appeal to racial sentiment. “The absence of large African companies,” argues The People's Voice, “of African-owned mines and large factories—a natural consequence of colonial oppression—turns the African workers in an anti-imperialist direction. The European colonialist became the enemy of the African workers,” but the paper goes on to suggest that because of this the trade union struggle is against the “European rulers” just as is the African political movement and hence it is reasonable for them to unite.

But is the trade union struggle exclusively anti-European? Whatever may have been the position in West Africa, the idea that the European in Central Africa is merely a “monopolist” or a capitalist is as absurd as the notion that all Jews are financiers. First, there are over 80,000 European workers in Southern Rhodesia compared with 9,000 European employers and self-employed and, second, although nearly all the large businesses and factories are European or foreign owned, there are in actual fact more African businessmen than European. Nor the the Europeans the only people who have opposed African strikes. ZAPU’s allies in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland have done just this and worse.

In July this year the supreme council of the Northern Rhodesia African Mineworkers’ Union decided to call a strike for higher pay as they considered the copper mining companies' offer inadequate. Kenneth Kaunda's United National Independence Party decided that a strike at this time might harm their chances in the October general elections. UNIP therefore advised the workers to accept the offer and itself took steps to prevent the strike. During the weekend before the strike was due to begin leaflets were distributed calling on the workers not to strike. One such leaflet, signed by A. B. Mutemba, UNIP Kitwe, Kalulushi and Mufilira Regional Secretary, read:
Tell all our people that UNIP docs not agree to the strike call. This strike will spoil our forthcoming elections. We ask you all to report for work as usual. If you want a strike you will do so after October — not now. Anyone who strikes on Tuesday will be regarded as an enemy of the African cause (Northern News 9/7/62).
Other leaflets, later repudiated, accused the union leaders of organising the strike for their own selfish ends. As a result of these leaflets so much confusion was created that the union decided to call off the strike. At least this is one explanation, but the strike was called off after Kaunda had met the union leaders. Only later did it become known that one of these leaders, previously not known as a nationalist, had agreed to stand as a UNIP candidate in the elections. Whatever the reason, UNIP and the Companies won. This episode clearly shows the attitude of the Pan-Africanists towards the trade unions: they want to see the African workers organised in order to use them for their own ends.

The Malawi Congress Party, led by Our Great Ngwasi Kumuzu Banda (Ngwasi means '‘sage" but is probably better translated “fuehrer”), which rules Nyasaland has also clashed with the unions. No sooner had the MCP formed the government than it acted against some strikers, members of the Motor and Allied Workers Union, whose leaders had called a strike for higher pay. A Pan-Africanist writing later complained “what a burden it was for the new African Minister to start his duties by solving a strike problem," and went on:
In any event, the Malawi Congress Party condemned the strike and since then the destructive actions by this Union have been less apparent. (Daily News 22/6/62.)
Trade Unions
This turned out to be a little optimistic as the Motor and Allied Workers Union and the Commercial and General Workers’ Union continued their “irresponsible*’ and “destructive actions” of trying to improve their members’ working conditions and living standards; For their trouble the leaders of these unions were suspended from membership of the MCP and accused of “importing Trade Union ideas from America and Western Europe in this country.” This was judged incompatible with the principles and policy of the party. Which is a frank admission that the MCP is not in favour of allowing the workers to form genuine trade unions or of allowing them to strike.

Banda and his colleagues have continued to abuse and insult these union leaders whose only crime appears to be their belief that trade unions should be independent of Government. In August Dr. Banda referred to these trade unionists as “self seekers who are misleading the workers” and accused one of getting money from Europeans to “further his selfish ends.” Banda went on to say that his ruling Malawi Congress Party “will crush mercilessly anyone who allows himself to be used by imperialists and colonialists.”

Such is the way the Pan-Africanists treat the workers when once in power. With African businessmen it is a different matter. Far from saying that the African worker has no interests in common with these African property-owners the Pan-Africanists seek to win them for their cause. UNIP has a clause in its programme which reads: "to work and protect the interests of commercial traders and help them in their progressive business schemes." The Daily News (10/9/62) reported that at a ZAPU meeting “Mr. S. J. Ndebele ... urged African businessmen to rally behind ZAPU and sacrifice both money and time.” In addition the President of the African Farmers’ Union is also a well-known ZAPU member. Such is the confusion of Pan-African “Socialism” that it preaches the identity of interests between African worker and African capitalist and ignores the European worker. Indeed one of the smaller African nationalist parties in Southern Rhodesia which calls itself Socialist, the Pan-African Socialist Union, has denounced ZAPU as a “capitalist multi-racial organisation ” and one of its leaders is on record as having said: “I loathe European membership in a pure African nationalist organisation.” Pan-Africanism as a political creed has more in common with Fascism, insofar as it is a radical nationalist movement, than with Socialism and there are no grounds at all on which Socialists can support it.

It is not an accident that African nationalist parties, once in power, “crush mercilessly,” to use Banda’s own words, the workers’ independent trade unions. Even people with more regard for democracy than Banda or Nkrumah, people like Nyerere, who have taken in Western liberal ideas, are forced to pass laws restricting civil liberties and trade union freedoms. They do so because they have chosen to develop capitalism in their respective countries. Why this means they must attack the workers was recently well explained by a writer in Africa Today. “Independence,” he writes, “upset the conditions under which the African union movement had flourished. The state is African now, not European; the issue of patriotism can be, and is, turned against the unions if they oppose the government. The state is concerned with holding down labour costs in both private and public sectors. ... Governments dedicated to rapid economic development obviously must hold down, or reduce, real wages in order to raise capital.” So it is in Ghana and in Tanganyika; so it will be in Central Africa. It is for this reason that the right to strike is more often denied than granted in post-colonial Africa.

This in itself is a good enough reason why the workers of Britain should not listen to these glib nationalist leaders who come here asking for help — help to “crush mercilessly” the workers back home. Nor is there any hope for the workers of Africa in nationalism or racialism; Socialism remains the only hope for the workers of the world. But in Central Africa the workers of all races have yet to learn that the dividing line there, as elsewhere, is that of class not colour. White and non-White workers should stand together against White and non-White property owners. The sooner the workers realise this the better. Meanwhile the danger of racial clash remains.
Adam Buick